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Gerhard Richter (B. 1932), Abstraktes Bild, signed, dated 1991 and numbered 747-4 on the reverse, oil on canvas, 78 3/4 x 78 3/4 in. 200 x 200 cm. Estimate 15,000,00020,000,000 USD. Photo Sotheby’s

PROVENANCE: Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1997

EXPOSITION: Paris, Liliane & Michel Durand-Dessert, Gerhard Richter, September – October 1991, n. p., illustrated in color
Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Bonn, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland; Stockholm, Moderna Museet; Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Gerhard Richter, September 1993 – August 1994, cat. no. 84, not illustrated
London, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, Gerhard Richter: Painting in the Nineties, June – August 1995, cat. no. 1, pp. 37 and 82, illustrated in color

LITTERATURE: Angelika Thill, et. al., Gerhard Richter: A Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1993, cat. no. 747-4, n.p., illustrated in color
Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter, Maler, Cologne, 2002, p. 400 (text)
Monika Jenni-Preihs, Gerhard Richter und die Geschichte Deutschlands, Vienna and Berlin, 2013, p. 199

Notes: A spectacular torrent of brilliant red coursing horizontally across a perfectly square canvas, Abstraktes Bild ranks among the most intense and pristinely resolved examples of Gerhard Richter’s hallowed corpus of abstract painting. Like a river of liquid fire flowing across a mountainside, this painting continually adjusts our perception as we focus in and out of its illuminated yet limitless depths. The expanse is replete with the most vivid scarlet hue, form and texture: a stunning chromatic symphony achieved by the world’s greatest living painter. Streaked and smeared tides of once-semi-liquid material have been fixed on the surface; the shadows of their former malleability caught in a perpetually-dynamic stasis. Staccato ridges, crests and peaks of impasto punctuate this underlying fluidity creating a powerful sensation of distance. This painting sits at the chronological apex of the period when the artist’s creation of monumental essays in abstraction reached new heights and the long, hard-edged spatula became the central instrument of Richter’s technical practice. Indeed, the sum of Richter’s tireless process of addition and subtraction becomes a record of time itself within the paint strata: the innumerable layers of application and eradication have left their traces behind to accumulate and forge a portrait of temporal genesis.

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Tolbachik Volcano erupting, Kamchatka, Russia  © Sergey Gorshkov/Minden Pictures/Corbis

Richter’s unprecedented art of abstraction stands as ultimate culmination to the epic journey of his career, during which he has ceaselessly interrogated the limits of representation, the nature of perception and the operations of visual cognition. Variously evoking something of Rothko’s exuberance of transformative color, Pollock’s instigation of autonomous composition, and de Kooning’s transferal of the figural to the abstract, Richter’s abstraction is ultimately without comparison. His prodigious artistic output has earned unparalleled international acclaim, and over the course of a fifty-year career his work has been honored with numerous retrospectives by the most prestigious institutions. In the past five years alone there have been seventy-six major solo exhibitions of Richter’s work held in over twenty countries around the world, from the United States to Japan, Brazil to Switzerland, and Mexico to South Korea. In recent years these have famously included shows at the Museum of Modern Art, Tate Modern, the National Portrait Gallery, the Musée du Louvre and Centre Georges Pompidou in addition to many others.

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The artist with the present lot. Thomas Struth, Gerhard Richter in the Reina, Sofia, Madrid, 1995 © Thomas Struth Artwork © 2014 Gerhard Richter (ARS), New York

Benjamin Buchloh has identified a perennial relationship between absence and content in Richter’s abstract paintings, so that any evocation of nothingness or the void is immediately counteracted by unrelenting complexity and turbulence: « the ability of colour to generate this emotional, spiritual quality is presented and at the same time negated at all points, surely it’s always cancelling itself out. With so many combinations, so many permutational relationships there can’t be any harmonious chromatic order, or composition either, because there are no ordered relations left either in the colour system or the spatial system. » (Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Ibid., pp. 23-24) Within its sheer excess of layering and dynamic compositional facture,this painting emits an extraordinary wealth of enigmatic yet recognizable evocation. The incessant erasure and denial of formal resolution induces a reading of phenomenal forms associated with those found in nature. Readily evoking natural phenomena, this work derives at least part of its effect from a spontaneous naturalism. Where Richter’s Photo Paintings fall away into abstraction, the Abstrakte Bilder return us, if only elusively, to a reading of figuration.

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Willem de Kooning, Gansevoort Street, c. 1949 Private Collection © 2014 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society

Richter’s technique affords an element of chance that is necessary to facilitate the artistic ideology of the abstract works. As the artist has explained, « I want to end up with a picture that I haven’t planned. This method of arbitrary choice, chance, inspiration and destruction may produce a specific type of picture, but it never produces a predetermined picture… I just want to get something more interesting out of it than those things I can think out for myself. » (the artist interviewed in 1990 in Hubertus Butin and Stefan Gronert, eds., Gerhard Richter. Editions 1965-2004: Catalogue Raisonné, Ostfildern-Ruit 2004, p. 36) With the repeated synthesis of chance being a defining trait of its execution, the painterly triumph of the present workbecomes independent of the artist and acquires its own inimitable and autonomous individuality. Indeed, Richter’s creation necessitated a conscious suspension of the artist’s artistic will and assertion of judgment. Over a protracted period of execution, the painting underwent multiple variations in which each new sweeping accretion of paint brought new juxtapositions that were reworked until the optimum threshold of harmonious articulation was achieved. Within this process, grounds of arresting pigment were applied only to be effaced and drawn out by large track-like strokes. Although spontaneous in their lyrical grandeur, these overlaid marks were in fact cerebrally labored. Yet Richter holds no presuppositions in the devising of his abstract paintings: in his own words it is by “letting a thing come, rather than creating it – no assertions, constructions, formulations, inventions, ideologies” that Richter looks “to gain access to all that is genuine, richer, more alive: to what is beyond my understanding.” (Gerhard Richter, ‘Notes 1985’ in Hans-Ulrich Obrist ed., Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting, Writings 1962-1993, p. 119) Indeed, as formulated by Birgit Pelzer, Richter’s abstract works prove that which cannot be articulated: “Richter’s painting explores the enigmatic juncture of sense and non-sense. His paintings encircle, enclose the real as that which it is impossible to say: the unrepresentable.” (Birgit Pelzer, « The Tragic Desire » in Benjamin D. Buchloh, ed., Gerhard Richter: October Files, Massachusetts, 2009, p. 118)

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Clyfford Still, 1949 No. 1 (PH-385), 1949 The Clyfford Still Museum © City and County of Denver, courtesy the Clyfford Still Museum

Gerhard Richter’s artistic contribution is internationally considered within the highest tier of our era, his inimitably diverse canon evidencing more than five decades of philosophical enquiry into the core natures of perception and cognition. Indeed, with its poignant critical reflections and groundbreaking advancements, it is undeniable that his output has opened up a wealth of possibilities for the future course of art history. Since the early 1960s he has engaged manifold genres of painting, delving into and pushing the boundaries of theoretical and aesthetic levels of understanding whilst exploring and challenging the fundamentals of their development. However, his extraordinary odyssey into the realm of abstract painting is often regarded as the culmination of his artistic and conceptual enquiries into the foundations of visual understanding. After decades of exploring the role of painting in relation to competing visual cultures; film and photography and even painting itself, the emergence of the Abstraktes Bild stands as the crowning achievement of his oeuvre. As Benjamin H. D. Buchloh has highlighted, and as there can be absolutely no doubt, Richter’s position within the canon of abstraction is one of “incontrovertible centrality.” (Exh. Cat., Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Gerhard Richter: Large Abstracts,2009, p. 9)

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The present work installed in the exhibition Gerhard Richter, Moderna Museet, 1994 Photo: Moderna Museet / Stockholm Artwork © 2014 Gerhard Richter

Sotheby’s. Contemporary Art Evening Auction. New York | 11 nov. 2014, 06:30 PM